mercredi 27 décembre 2017

Les m’as-tu-vu de la protection animale

Charles Danten

En pleine démonstration de ses grandes qualités 
humaines, BB fait son cinéma... noblesse oblige.
Les éthiciens, les juristes et les avocats spécialisés en droit animal, les adeptes du véganisme de même que les groupes animalitaires comme la Fondation Brigitte Bardot, voire les groupes écologiques comme Greenpeace et le Fonds mondial pour la nature (WWF), tous en théorie sympathiques à la cause des animaux et de la nature sont, paradoxalement, les défenseurs et les promoteurs les plus ardents du statu quo.

De fait, selon l’ethnologue, Sergio Dalla Bernardina, « l’action des militants animalitaires est éminemment symbolique; ce qui semble être une quête d’innocence est dans les faits une comédie de l’innocence répondant à des ambitions purement égocentriques ».

Cette machination culturelle sert notamment à résoudre les tensions morales suscitées par notre style de vie en cultivant l’illusion qu’un changement est imminent. En échange, les m’as-tu-vu de la protection animale, qui ne sont, en d'autres mots, que les idiots utiles du système, y gagnent en estime de soi — et la société aussi, car ce sont ses émissaires — dans l’esprit de ce texte de Friedrich Nietzsche extrait de L’Antéchrist :

Lorsqu’on est chargé de tâches sacrées, comme d’amender, de sauver, de racheter les hommes, lorsqu’on abrite la divinité dans sa poitrine, lorsqu’on est le porte-parole d’impératifs de l’au-delà, du seul fait de cette mission, on se trouve d’emblée hors des évaluations purement intellectuelles, soi-même déjà presque sanctifié par cette mission, soi-même déjà l’archétype d’un ordre supérieur !

Ainsi, l’enjeu est moins le changement que l’espoir du changement avec les bonnes émotions qu’ils suscitent à petits prix. Les cyniques du XVIIe siècle comme La Rochefoucauld étaient fort conscients de cette ruse culturelle qu’ils définissaient comme « l’hommage que le vice paie à la vertu ».

Ce fossé entre les apparences et la réalité passe en général inaperçu, car dans notre culture, la cruauté, la violence et la volonté de puissance sont généralement dissociées des bonnes intentions et des bons sentiments. L’exploitation des animaux de compagnie, par exemple, une forme d'exploitation pourtant plus cruelle que les autres par son hypocrisie et sa sophistication est bien perçue précisément parce qu’elle se cache derrière le masque trompeur de l'amour et de la compassion.


Dans cet esprit voir aussi en anglais : 

Krishnamurti, the Compassionate Face of Animal Cruelty

How PETA Sold Out to the Pet Industry

dimanche 5 novembre 2017

How PETA Sold Out to the Pet Industry

Charles Danten, former veterinarian

Ingrid Newkirk, CEO of PETA
The well-intentioned animal activist is born through his ability to identify with suffering animals; he recognizes himself in them. His efforts to change their condition, although sincere, are also an indirect attempt to put an end to his own suffering. (1) But, as he loses himself in action, as he forges friendships with other militants, as he obtains certain results in terms of sympathy capital, as he climbs the ranks of power, his self-love increases to the detriment of his cause.
To better understand the phenomenon, let’s take a close look at the journey of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the most in-vogue “animalitary” group in the world, with 2 million members and 30 million dollars in donations each year.
PETA was founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk and her associate Alex Pacheco. Originally, this organization was pure, hard-core abolitionist, radically opposing any and all forms of animal exploitation, without exception. As the following citations show, they would have been the first to denounce the exploitation of animals as pets, without compromise:
Let us allow the dog to disappear from our brick and concrete jungles – from our firesides, from the leather nooses and chains by which we enslave it. (3)
The bottom line is that people don't have the right to manipulate or to breed dogs and cats ... If people want toys they should buy inanimate objects. If they want companionship they should seek it with their own kind. (4) 
All forms of exploitation and abuse are wrong. (5)
From the beginning, PETA focused on high-profile interventions. Its leaders especially targeted research laboratories in which vivisection was practiced. With the help of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), which it fully endorsed at the time, PETA succeeded in infiltrating a number of research centers operating in atrocious conditions and then in forcing them to temporarily close. These results won them considerable media coverage, which translated to a substantial increase in new supporters and, of course, donations.
Little by little, as they gained visibility and power, the heads of PETA relied more and more on their member support. Although in the beginning PETA refused to negotiate on their principles, as they gained notoriety, their dependence on members required making compromises. When they realized that their most faithful supporters were dog and cat owners, Pacheco and Newkirk stopped recognizing pet ownership as exploitation and abuse. To save their image, they also cut ties with ALF. Thanks to these political adjustments, they managed to attract many new fans.
Ingrid Newkirk, the highly visible CEO of this multinational non-profit, has since tirelessly traveled the globe, staging sensational demonstrations and campaigns but without any genuine, worthwhile results. No one in the media would organize a debate on the unfortunate animal condition without inviting Newkirk, who plays her role marvelously. Well-articulated like any committed militant, she has an answer to every question, and her opinion is always sought out by the right-thinking currents of society. She has acquired enormous notoriety and sympathy capital. This represents a spectacular turnaround, further rewarded by juicy corporate donations and a heap of marginal benefits that cannot be measured solely in monetary terms.
One thing has led to another, and PETA has adopted reformism, or small-steps politics. Their objective has become sitting down with authorities to find solutions that will relieve animals of some misery within the framework of continued exploitation. For example, following long negotiations, PETA succeeded in obtaining a promise from the poultry industry – yes, a “promise” – that the perimeter of battery cages would be increased…by two inches! Or was it two centimeters? It doesn’t really matter!
In this way, PETA mutated from its original abolitionist stance into a movement for the defense of animal welfare. Behind a more muscular rhetoric, they share the objectives of welfarists: to improve the animal condition within the status quo. So when you hear the words “animal liberation” or “abolition,” you should understand “slight improvement of the animal condition”; “putting an end to suffering” means “reducing suffering,” which is vague terminology with no substance, and which could be taken to mean anything; and “animal rights” has come to mean “animal welfare.” (6)
What is less recognized, however, is the fact that PETA has meanwhile become the most ultra-sophisticated promoter possible of the pet industry. Its alibi: the very loud and self-righteous war on the more obvious forms of animal abuse like bullfighting, seal hunting and so on. Go to their website, if you are curious, and you will find a host of accessories for pet lovers: t-shirts, instructional manuals, food, cups, buttons, jewelry. These products serve one sole purpose: to touch the hearts of members and thus attract donations. Never mind that in doing so, PETA is promoting the consumption of pets. They have even stooped so low as to sell advertising space to PETCO, one of the biggest pet stores in the world. By a strange twist of fate, Ingrid Newkirk becomes a notorious dog lover: “I don’t have the luxury of having a dog myself because I travel too much, but I love walking and cuddling somebody else’s dog.”
Caught up in their own game, such predatory groups have four major concerns: keeping the secret of their real activities, hiding their multiple collusions with the corporate world that exploits animals on a large scale, finding ways to draw money from their sympathizers, and controlling the information given to journalists to better manipulate public opinion. In order to accomplish all this, says investigative journalist Olivier Vermont, author of the book The Hidden Face of Greenpeace:
[…] these organizations must conserve their façade of efficiency at any price. They do so by orienting their activities towards the sensational and short-term, in order to bluff not only their own militants, but also those who support them financially. Operating mostly in secret, they can go so far as to fool the public regarding the actual results of their campaigns by awarding themselves fictitious crowns of laurel. (7)
Thus, creating an illusion of rigor and demonstrating a certain panache, even insolence, is a primary tactic used to convince the public that an organization’s function is authentic and legitimate. But for all their show, these groups fail to question some of the sacrosanct dogmas that underlie the battles they fight. To sum up their philosophy: We have to be outraged enough to be credible; after all, people aren’t total idiots. We have to give them their money’s worth, but without bringing up the underlying causes of the problem that even we do not want to look at!
As a general rule, because our attention is naturally drawn to the obvious, the true issues escape the radar. This renders them far more persuasive than if they were explicitly stated. Herein lies the most demoniacal aspect of this logic: when we react strictly downhill to consequences without bothering to go uphill and question the legitimacy of their root causes, the founding credo, we only condone and reinforce the source of the problem. (8)
Consider the message behind this slogan, whose aim is to promote “responsible” pet ownership: “Adopting an animal is for life!” On the surface, it caters to the desire to make society kinder towards animals. However, by silently buying into the fallacies of zootherapy*, it does more to nullify the wanted effect of saving animals and to amplify the dreaded effect of consumerism, with all its inseparable atrocities.
This is how people who aim to protect animals end up instead smilingly contributing to the heinousness of the industry. Their involvement within the accepted confines of the present system only gives strength to its basic building blocks. Thus, paradoxically, those who defend animals PETA-style only worsen the problem they are trying to solve precisely because they do so with the exact same frame of mind that created the problem in the first place. This explains, in a nutshell, why the animal condition has deteriorated over the past 300 years and why it will continue to do so. 
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root,” says Henry David Thoreau in Walden, “and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.

* Zootherapy is a term “that can refer to institutionalized therapy sessions led by health professionals or another such intermediary as well as simply having an animal at home. The word ‘zootherapy’ is thus a generic term designating the positive impact of animals on people,” (9) and to give you the full story, I will add the impact of people on animals, since it is generally agreed that this form of affection is as good for them as it is for us.

** Cognitive dissonance: When confronted with a truth that goes against our beliefs, the result is psychological discomfort arising from the contradiction. There are three ways to resolve it: 1) We can change our perception of things to accommodate the new information received; 2) We can change the opinion of the person who shared the contradictory information, so that he agrees with us; 3) We can simply reject the information by attributing it to beliefs, experiences, frustrations, or another personal motive of the other.)


1. Bernardina, Sergio Dalla (2006). L’éloquence des bêtes. Métailié; Boltanski, Luc (1993). La souffrance à distance: morale humanitaire, médias et politique. Métailié; West, Patrick (2002). Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes It Really Is Cruel to Be Kind. Civitas; Digby, Anderson and Mullen, Roger editors (1998). Faking it: The Sentimentalisation of Modern Society. Social Affairs Unit; Hoffer, Eric (1952). The true believer: Thoughts on the nature of mass movements. Perennial Classics.
2. Greenberg, Jeff et al (1996). “Why Do People Need Self-esteem? Converging Evidence That Self-Esteem serves an Anxiety-Buffering Function.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; 63 (6): 913.
3. Bryant, John (1983). Fettered Kingdoms: An Examination of a Changing Ethic. PETA.
4. Newkirk, Ingrid. PETA.
5. Newkirk, Ingrid. Wikipedia. The free encyclopedia. Newkirk quotes are all over the Internet.
6. Francione, Gary (1996). Rain without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Temple University Press: a cogent demystification of the animal right’s movement. Too bad Francione, a declared abolitionist, has 5 pets! Herscovici, Alan (1991). Second Nature. The Animal-rights Controversy. Toronto: Stoddart; Boltanski, Luc. “L’opacité du désir.” Work. cited.
7. Vermont, Olivier (1997). La face cachée de Greenpeace: infiltration au sein de l’internationale écologiste. Albin Michel.
8. Reboul, Olivier (1984). Langages et idéologies. Presses Universitaires Françaises.
9. Faure, Gaëlle (2004). “La représentation de l’animal de compagnie dans la vie psycho-affective de l’Homme adulte. Rapport de recherche bibliographique.” École nationale supérieure des sciences de l’information et des bibliothèques, France: 47.

jeudi 12 octobre 2017

The Useful Idiots of the Pet Industry

Charles Danten, former veterinarian

Alice in Wonderland 2

In their book, Welcome Home: An Animal Rights Perspective on Living With Dogs & Catsthe Winograd's from their wonderland mischaracterize my book and evade the real issues altogether. 

My book, Slaves of Our Affection. The Myth of the Happy Pet is about the dark side of today's pet keeping fad. It shows unequivocally that the exploitation of animals on an industrial scale for ideological, recreative, sentimental, financial, and commercial reasons, for example, is detrimental to animals, humans, and nature. This fad is not about love but about careerism, egocentrism, virtue-signalling*, affection-slavery, escape, money, lies, and more lies. 

Down the Rabbit Hole

Yet, the Winograd's do not say a single word in their appreciation of my book about the negative aspects of affection-slavery, which are at the crux of Slaves of Our AffectionThey delve into several common fantasies about how animals think - how the Winograd’s know is a real mystery to me - and how animals choose and enjoy being kept as slaves for mostly trivial reasons. They twist the facts to suit their purpose and fail to mention one of the most important topics of my book: the alleged psychological and physical benefits of pets - which are one of the main causes of the pet phenomena - have been debunked by numerous top-notch quantitative studies. 

Pets like all placebos have a superficial effect on about 30% of pet owners. They do not cure anyone of their mental and physical ills. This explains why so many animals are abandoned and euthanized or kept for life in no-kill shelters ran by delusional or dishonest people who have made a career out of this barbarism with a smiley face. Once people realize they have been fooled by the false allegations of the pet industry and the many useful idiots that promote it under the guise of Animal Rights, love, and compassion, they throw their junk-pets away in some dump euphemistically called "shelter" and buy some other feel-good prop that doesn't bite back or doesn't need to be cleaned, fed or taken out. 

As I explain in my book, dogs and cats did not domesticate themselves as the Winograd's state without giving a single shred of evidence. Someone had to get the ball rolling at one point or another because it goes without saying, animals are obviously unable to practice artificial selection on themselves - it's so obvious, it seems absurd to even have to specify it! Eugenism which is routinely used to create domestic animals is a strictly human thing.

In short, my book is not really about animals, but mostly about humans and how they hide behind good intentions and good sentiments to exploit animals and deceive themselves at the same time. It's about veiled cruelty, the most horrible kind of cruelty there is, much worse than manifest cruelty such as vivisection, trophy hunting, and intensive farming, because it is not at first visible to the naked eye. Unless you are willing to go down the rabbit hole to examine the root causes, like I have done in my book, it escapes the radar altogether.

* Virtue-signalling: expression or promotion of viewpoints, behaviours or actions, that are especially valued within the social group, done primarily to enhance the social standing of the person employing them.

Charles Danten, B.Sc., D.V.M.  M.A.

dimanche 3 septembre 2017

The Case Against affection-Slavery

Charles Danten, former veterinarian

The following arguments are based on the fact that between 80 and 85 percent of pet owners, according to Animal Veterinary Hospital Association surveys, consider themselves to be the fathers and mothers of their pets, and consider it derogatory to call them anything but “children.” Therefore, the use of the word slave, which technically applies to humans only is perfectly justified.

Proud pet owner and Affection-Slavery advocate
Gary Francine virtue-signalling* with his pets.
Affection-Slavery Advocate,
Tom Regan,
virtue-signalling with his pets before he passed away recently.
Virtue-signalling: expression or promotion of viewpoints, behaviours or actions, that are especially valued within the social group, done primarily to enhance the social standing of the person employing them.

Affection-slavery: The instrumentalization of animals for therapeutic and virtue-signalling reasons or for their affection as defined in more detail in the introductory chapter of my book, Slaves of Our Affection: The Myth of the Happy Pet.


1. Most people who are not psychopaths love animals and don't mean to hurt them.

2. Enslaving animals for their affection is inconsistent with the first point because it results in animal misery rather than wellbeing, as I have thoroughly documented in my book (see also on this blog, People who love animals should not own pets).

3. Enslaving animals for their affection is inconsistent with the first point because it inherently means exploiting them, treating them as inferior, neglecting their biological needs, and harming them in ways that are irreconcilable with the first point.

4. Rescuing animals is inconsistent with the first point because it perpetuates the problem viciously. It is not generally true that keeping rescue animals gives them a life in which they fare well; nor is it true that rescue-keeping is consistent with any form of animal liberation:

– By buying into the fallacies described herein, adoption does more to nullify the wanted effect of saving animals and to amplify the dreaded effect of consumerism, with all its inseparable atrocities. 

– Every rescued animal becomes a living publicity board that states: exploiting an animal through ownership is legitimate. People who see you walking your dog cannot know you rescued it and want to abolish the injustice of the pet industry. So for every animal “saved,” countless others will be pulled into this endless inferno.

 – Many rescued animals are not truly rescued; they are just shuffled around from one master to another. Rescues are subjected to the same misery described in my book as any other pets. 

– As Condorcet argues in his landmark book, Reflections on Negro Slavery, saving a slave from death does not give you the right to enslave it for your own pleasure and comfort. So unless you can actually liberate, in the true sense of the word, a rescued animal, it is wrong to assert that rescuing an animal is consistent with the first point. And since it is absurd to liberate a domestic animal, for reasons I have explained in my book, one should simply stay out of it, if one truly wishes to see the end of affection-slavery.  

5. Affection-slavery is also wrong because it is destructive to the self and to the environment (see the chapter of my book “Some Ethical Issues” and on this blog a short excerpt from the chapter “Zootherapy debunked” called The Fake News of Animal-Assisted Therapy). It sets a bad example for children, who will carry on with the slave-ownership mentality until we teach them otherwise.

Therefore all normal people who love animals should oppose affection-slavery, even for rescue purposes, because it is harmful to animals, to the self, and to the environment.

I rest my case.


Charles Danten

Wildlife Trade for the Pet Industry

Charles Danten

International conventions, laws, and regulations of all kinds have been defined for the purpose of regulating the trade of animals, but these measures, admirable though they may be, are not succeeding at putting an end to the smuggling and the illegal trade of wildlife.

While it is relatively easy to formulate laws, it is less simple to put them in place and, above all, to enforce them. The best example is the multiplication of violent crimes in our society, or the persistence of behaviors contrary to the law, like drug usage an trafficking of humans for prostitution for example, despite stricter laws, closer surveillance, and more and more severe punishments. The difficulty involved in getting people to treat animals decently is less surprising when we look at how people behave towards each other.

Countries, like China, that participate in conventions such as CITES do not always respect the established quotas, and continue, sometimes at the same rhythm, to pillage and plunder. There are also several countries, like Taiwan, which do not even feign interest in such efforts to curtail the problem. Australia is the only country to have completely forbidden the trade of its wildlife, but certain species there, like cockatoos, are the object of intensive trafficking nevertheless.

To make things worse, very little is done on the consumer end to stop the demand for exotic animals, especially in Western countries where pet mania for example has reached and all time high. For some reason, most NGO’s do not adress the root causes of the problems they are intent on solving.

According to a 2005 US embassy cable released by Wikileaks, on a global scale, the trade of wildlife, of which the main markets are the oriental medical industry, the clothing industry, and the pet industry in the U.S and Europe, is “$US10 billion to $US20 billion a year, ranking third after arms and drugs trafficking.” For poor countries, it is an important source of income. 

Each year, thirty thousand primates, five hundred thousand parrots, between four and five hundred million aquarium fish, between one and two thousand tons of coral, and an unknown number of reptiles and mammals illegally cross international borders in order to supply the pet market, for instance.

Because of this commerce the population of Hyacinth macaws, the largest and one of the most beautiful parrots in the world, has gone from one hundred thousand birds in the 1950s to five thousand today. Amazon parrots are even more endangered, especially the Yellow-headed Amazon, whose trade was finally outlawed in Mexico. 

The poaching of wild animals such as monkeys and parrots is reaching a critical state in Brazil Atlantic’s rainforest as reported in another Wikileak Embassy cable. In 2005 police have confiscated 50 000 animals up from 15 000 five years earlier. According to The Brazilian National Network to Fight the Trafficking of Wild Animals – RENCTAS – Brazil traffic accounts for 10% of global trade. It is estimated that nearly half of the animals are shipped to the US and the EU to be used as pets or in zoos, for example. According to zoo historians Éric Baratay and Élizabeth Hardouin-Fugier, 79% of the San Diego Zoo animals are bought on the black market.

Parrots are second only to drugs when it comes to goods smuggled from Mexico to the United States. The profit margin is identical and the risk of getting caught is much smaller. Only two federal agents are charged with the surveillance of the border between Texas and Mexico, and they are overwhelmed. A parrot that costs $15 U.S. in Mexico will sell on the American black market for between $250 and $10,000, and sometimes up to $35,000 for the rarest specimens. From 100,000 to 250,000 parrots are sold illegally each year in the United States, of which 25,000, valued at $40,000,000, pass illegally through Texas. These birds come from all of the countries south of the border, but most often from Mexico. Some 25,000 die in transit from asphyxiation, hunger, dehydration, and mistreatment. Neotropical parrots have become one of the most endangered groups of birds in the world, mainly because of the pet industry and the destruction of habitats. About 30% of the 140 parrot species from Latin America are endangered, and the others are quickly on their way to sharing that status. Out of the 335 parrot species across the globe, 77 are threatened with extinction.

According to several other US embassy cables published by Wikileaks, the toll of trafficking on African countries is dramatic, as is the collusion of government officials with poachers. In Tchad, for example, most poachers are gulf state Arab hunters/falconers and Sudanese poachers. The rich Arab hunters rent powerful vehicles and chase antelopes to exhaustion before shooting them. Their dried and uncured skins, which are thought to have aphrodis properties are then exported. Elephants of the Zakouma National Park, a key refuge for this species, are hunted down and the ivory transported by poverty stricken Chadians through sophisticated poaching networks.

In Haiti and the Dominican Republic, rhinoceros iguanas are chased down without reprieve; in Madagascar, the wilderness is plundered for the capture of animals like chameleons and a few very rare turtles and tortoises (such as the plowshare tortoise). It is already too late for the Egyptian tortoise, once sold by the thousands in America and in Europe; there is but a small population of them left in Libya, and while they have been officially protected since 1944, they are still pursued by poachers.

Thailand and Taiwan constitute important hubs within this contraband. Countries around the world dispose of their protected animal merchandise through Thailand, including different species of monkeys, like the marmoset monkey (Callithrix jacchus) and the squirrel monkey (Saimiri sciureus), both whose origins are in South America. Tigers as well as numerous other protected species pass through Thailand or Taiwan before being sent towards western markets. 

In Big Bend National Park, in Death Valley in Texas, as well as in Arizona, a common summertime sight is that of people on the side of the road, in the middle of the day, raising rocks with the help of iron bars and peering into crevices in an attempt to catch snakes. Some snakes sell for $10,000 on the black market. As a result, surrounding towns are infested with rats, which have no natural predators left.

The orangutan, which appears on the CITES list of the most endangered species, sells for anywhere between $6,000 and $15,000 on the black market. More than a thousand of them have been illegally imported over the course of the last few years. Taiwan is the source. Scientists estimate that from four to six young orangutans die for each one that arrives alive at its destination. Young orangutans, very dependent like most other primates, are captured easily – the hunters kill their mothers, to whom the babies continue to cling. No more than 10,000 adults remain in the wild.

Leopards, tigers, and smaller wildcats, who appear on the same CITES list, are also the objects of heavy trafficking. The United States, Great Britain, Japan, and Holland are the largest legal importers of primates, who are destined mainly to go to zoos and to scientific research.

There are several ways to foil vigilant customs officials, whose numbers are insufficient for the task. To get animals across borders, smugglers attach them to the insides of hubcaps; stuff them into tubes, baskets, and boxes; pile them into suitcases with false bottoms; and hide them under women’s dresses. Some are drugged so they can better withstand the conditions of the trip. Beaks are taped shut and wing feathers are cut. Some protected species, like the Egyptian tortoise and the Indian star tortoise, are mixed with species for which trade is authorized, and thus pass through unperceived, the customs officials being unable to distinguish them from the rest. The best organized smugglers pile animals into boxes that they hide among other merchandise in transit.

"Fake News" of Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT)

Charles Danten
Excerpt from
© Charles Danten 2015

Animals supposedly stimulate good conduct in children, encourage the development of their sense of empathy and compassion, redeem delinquents, contribute to better health, lead to a greater respect for nature and animals, increase the survival rate of cancer patients, help autistic and disabled children improve, facilitate social interactions, relieve stress, anxiety, loneliness, depression, and post-traumatic stress syndrome, etc.

But where is the proof to these claims?

In science, there are two approaches to conducting research:

1. Descriptive or hypothesis-generating studies

These are presented in the form of anecdotal reports. This kind of study is extremely useful in identifying novel phenomena. They help form a hypothesis, which must then be tested by more controlled studies. They rarely demonstrate the value of a treatment or the existence of a causal relationship. Anecdotal reports, testimonials, and expert opinions are the weakest form of evidence. Unless they are documented by hard facts, they do not make a science.

2. Quantitative or hypothesis-testing studies

Newly discovered phenomena are tested with experimental studies or epidemiologic surveys that utilize carefully constructed control groups and allow for the possibility that the hypothesis being tested is false. In other words, it is not enough to “know” something is true; one must prove it by following standard protocols. These are devised to eliminate any biases, which could influence the results and conclusions of a study and thus lead us astray. (1)
The objective of good science is more about disproving a theory than about proving it. If a theory cannot be refuted after a significant number of attempts, it becomes a truth until proven otherwise. Good science always leaves the door open to revision of accepted truths. But one must be extra cautious here because a study of the second type mentioned above can be as flawed as one from the first category. The psychological hang-ups and mental mechanisms of its users being the principal Achilles’ heel of science, before yelling “Eureka!” one must consider the source of financing, the quality of the scientific methodology used as well as the affiliation of the researchers. (2)(3)(4)(5)

Source of financing

Research in the field of zootherapy is financed almost exclusively by the powerful pet industry, and with good reason, pets make up the eighth largest retail industry in the U.S., bigger than toys, hardware, and jewellery, valued at 55 billion dollars in 2013. (6)

According to French ethnologist Jean-Pierre Digard:
Big Pharma and pet food companies finance the bulk of the research in this field. Top priority is given to the studies on: 1) pet food (this can lead to greater product diversification and more profits); 2) the human-pet bond; 3) the human health benefits of animals (on which depends the popularity of pets); 4) animal well-being which has a positive effect on image and profits. (7)

Of course, the financial domination of the pet industry would not be a problem if the science it produced weren’t so bad.

Quality of the scientific methodology and affiliation of the researchers

The large majority of studies on the benefits of pets fit into the first category, hypothesis-generating studies. The contributions of pioneers like New York psychiatrist Boris Levinson are merely simple anecdotal observations rather than scientific experiments. Nevertheless, these are the types of studies used by the pet industry to promote the benefits of the human-animal bond. (8)

The theorists and most outspoken proponents of this field of study belong mostly to the field of psychology. This raises a serious credibility problem since in general research in psychology does not follow the scientific method. (9)(10)(11)(12) According to Jacques Forget, vice-dean of research in social sciences at the University of Quebec in Montreal, "a psychology which purports to be scientific should follow the scientific method. However, in many cases, it prefers to rely strictly on authority. [...] In addition, in the field of professional psychology, descriptive research [hypothesis-generating studies] is the preferred type of research […] yet, and in spite of its relevance, it can never replace quantitative research [hypothesis-testing studies] based on evidence and on numerous experimental studies."(13)

In a landmark article published in 1984 in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, American scientists Alan M. Beck and Aaron Honori Katcher warned of the poor quality of research being conducted in animal-assisted therapy. (14) They debunked the claimed benefits of pets so thoroughly that it is a wonder that the pet industry bothers to continue “research” in this field with such unrelenting intensity and with the exact same flaws reported 30 years ago. (15)(16)(17)(18)(19)(20)

In 1997, after reviewing more than a thousand studies, epidemiologist Dr. T. Allen reported in the above publication: “Most reports describing the effects of human-canine inter-actions fall into categories at the bottom of the hierarchy ladder [of scientific validity]. There are no studies that compare a group of people with pets and one without.” (21)

In 2006, Drs. K. A. Kruger and J. A. Serpell stated:
As demonstrated, animal-assisted interventions draw from an impressive variety of disciplines and perspectives (e.g., genetics, developmental psychology, psychoanalytic theory, behaviourism). […] While impressive in their variety and scope, not a single theory [that appear in this chapter] has been adequately tested empirically, and most studies have returned equivocal or conflicting results when the necessary testing has been attempted. (22)

While some studies have found that positive short-term effects of the placebo type can accrue from interacting with animals, most quality hypothesis-testing studies, many of which are cited below, have found that the health and happiness of pet owners is no better, and in some cases worse, than that of non–pet owners. (23)(24) As stated in 2011 by scientist Harold Herzog, “the existence of a generalized 'pet effect' on human mental and physical health is at present not a fact but an unsubstantiated hypothesis.” (25)

In spite of the evidence, however, the perceived therapeutic benefits of the human-animal relationship for both humans and animals continue to be regarded as a statement of fact, no questions asked, with a surprising and curious lack of skepticism. 

Alleged health benefits

In a comparative study, designed to test a hypothesis, professor Mike Kelly of Greenwich University showed that walking without a dog is far healthier than walking with one. Because of a dog’s numerous “pit stops” along the way – which the researchers called “lamppost syndrome” – the owner’s heart is never sufficiently stimulated to benefit. After only fourteen weeks, the weights, cholesterol levels, and blood pressures of the non-owners were significantly lower than of those of the group that owned dogs. Overall, the general health of the group without four-legged companions was much better than that of the group saddled with canine company. (26)

A Finnish study published in 2006, which surveyed 21,000 Finnish adults aged 20 to 54, is one of the few independent studies that has looked at the effects of pets on the general population. In this hypothesis-testing study, scientists Leena K. Koivusilta and Ansa Ojanlatva showed that pet owners are sick more often and do a below-average amount of exercise: 26% of the pet owners in the study were overweight, compared with 21% for those who did not have pets; 16% of the pet owners exercised less than once a month in comparison to 2% for those without pets. The risk of having health problems is 10% to 20% higher in pet owners than in non-pet owners, even when factors such as age and socio-economic level are considered. This is comparable to the risk in bachelors, widowers, and divorcees. Overall, this study associated pet ownership with poor, rather than good, health. (27)

In another very rare hypothesis-testing peer-reviewed comparative study to determine whether pet ownership by elderly people is associated with lower use of health services, Dr. Anthony Jorm from Australia showed that “elderly pet owners did not differ from non-owners on any of the physical or mental health measures or in use of health services.” (28)

Another hypothesis-testing study of 425 heart-attack victims found that pet owners were more likely than non-pet owners to die or suffer remissions within a year of suffering their heart attack. (29)

As for Friedman's anecdotal study on the anxiolytic effects of pets (30), the most frequently cited "study" by pet therapy advocates, it is as deeply flawed (31) as the other studies in this field:
These [types of] studies suggest that the presence of pets may lower our blood pressure and stress levels, although they do not tell us the reasons for this effect. They also do not inform us whether we would observe similar effects with other preferred stimuli, such as a good luck charm or a favorite doll. (32)
The Japanese, for example, have shown conclusively that the same results can be achieved with pet robots designed for that purpose. (33) Animals have no mysterious qualities that make them irreplaceable.

Alleged psychological benefits

The impact of pets on psychological well-being is also far from being an established fact, as most advocates of this therapy would have us believe. People whose lives are socially unsatisfactory often try to spice things up by acquiring an animal, but according to a Pew Research Center survey of 3,000 Americans, pet owners are not happier than non-owners. (34) A recent study by psychologist Andrew Gilbey has shown that older adults who are highly attached to their dogs tend to be more depressed than individuals who are not as attached to their pets. (35) Researchers in England found that individuals who had acquired pets were just as lonely as they were before they got their pet, and were no happier than participants who had not gotten a pet (36).

In fact, some scientists, such as Finnish researchers Leena K. Koivusilta and Ansa Ojanlatva, believe that a pet is more likely to exacerbate underlying problems, which remain unaddressed. (37) One study of 40,000 Swedes, for example, found that pet owners suffered more than non-pet owners from psychological problems such as anxiety, chronic tiredness, insomnia, and depression (38). According to a Finnish study of 21,000 pet owners, these were at increased risk for hypertension, high cholesterol, gastric ulcers, migraine headaches, depression, and panic attacks. (39) An Australian study of 2,551 elderly adults found that dog ownership was associated with poorer physical health and with depression (40). Finally, in a study of 12,000 American adults, cat or dog ownership was unrelated to mortality rates. (41)

Sharing thoughts and feelings with a person, animal, or object that cannot offer contradiction leads easily to emotional hyper-dependence. Children, as well as immature adults, are particularly vulnerable to the trap. This phenomenon of psychological transference is well-known to psychologists. (21)(43) In other words, the contemplation of self through the distorting prism of an object or an animal that will not or cannot set you straight is both a shelter and a danger. The systematic escape from existential problems short-circuits one of nature’s most potent agents of change: sorrow. Only sorrow can make us appreciate the urgent need of change. Those who avoid it at all costs suffer countless negative effects on their relationships and on life in general.


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